V. Supporting teachers and students
with adequate financial resources -
from the district, the town and the state
issues of funding support:
school reform and equity
reform: Funding ways to help schools climb out of their well-worn grooves
For the most part, a school's budget is already allocated to maintain current services.
Personnel contracts alone usually account for about 85% of a school's budget, sometimes
more. Traditional schools whose pedagogy depends on lectures and drill, 45-minute
"Carnegie" units of time and teachers isolated from one another, will have a
great deal of trouble helping students meet proficiency on the performance assessments.
Most districts do not have funds to make substantial investments in professional
development, co-ordinating the curriculum, new teaching materials, re-organizing the
school day or buying more meeting time for the teachers.
We know from our experience with the Carnegie initiative in some of our middle schools,
that it takes a temporary extra investment to dislodge the professionals, gently, from
doing business as usual, help them to work together in a new way and set them back in a
new and much more flexible groove. (Even the work in the middle schools is by no means
done.) Most schools' organization is overly rigid and unable to maximize the productivity
of their staffs. To help all students meet standards, schools need to empower teachers to
respond effectively and quickly to students' needs, research findings, new technologies or
whatever presents itself in this changing world.
Article 31 targeted investments
The General Assembly has set aside money, allocated on a per pupil basis, to support such
initiatives as professional development and improving technology. Most districts
gratefully used those funds in the spirit in which they were intended, but many districts
report that they are under intense pressure to apply these funds to basic operating
expenses. The costs of education are rising while the taxpayers' capacity and willingness
to increase funding are not. Further complicating the matter is the inequity between the
districts, both in terms of existing funding and in terms of need. The ability to assess
and realize the effects of these targeted funds is muddied by local fiscal pressures,
traditions of local control, 36 different municipal management systems and by the
significant resource disparities among the districts.
Equity: Tax revenue and expenditure: two
View charts in PDF format
1) Residential Property Value per Students vs Tax rate
2) Relative Tax Capacity and Effort
For the purposes of comparison, we placed the two charts which illustrate the same tax
money face to face on the following pages. These charts show related information about the
district municipalities' ability to generate revenue to support their municipal services,
including their schools.
The Property Value per Pupil versus the Municipal Tax Rate (PVPP vs MTR) chart is
expressed in hard numbers supplied by the RI League of Cities and Towns. The property
value per pupil is the total assessed value for all the property in the district divided
by the average daily enrollment of public school students residing in that district. The
tax rate is the rate set by the city and town councils, expressed as a dollar rate per
$1,000 of property value. Thus a $10.00 tax rate on a $100,000 home will raise $1,000 in
tax revenue. A house valued at $50,000 will raise only half that amount, or $500. A poorer
community, whose houses are only valued at $50,000 will have to raise their tax rate to
$20.00 per $1,000 in order to generate $1,000. Municipal salaries, such as those of
teachers, cost more or less the same from community to community, so poor communities must
tax their citizens at much higher rates to generate the same amount of revenue as
The Tax Capacity and Effort chart uses the assessed property value for the whole state,
divided by the statewide capacity and multiplied by 100. The tax rate is similarly
aggregated, divided by the state tax rate and multiplied by 100. This shows how much a
municipality can or could tax their local properties compared to how much they do tax the
local properties. The towns with large capacities tend to make the smallest efforts.
Conversely, the towns with least capacity tend to make the largest efforts.
Perhaps a good way of thinking about both of these charts is to imagine what it would mean
if the bars representing the Effort in the latter chart were all the same.
Imagine moving that Effort bar to 100, which is what the above mathematical manipulation
does in order to plot the districts on either side of that equalized 100 mark. If the
Effort were identical between the districts and the capacity were as it is currently, the
tax rates on the other chart would have to shift so that all towns, rich and poor were
making roughly the same financial effort. (This is essentially what Act 60 in Vermont
Too often districts are unable to do for their students what might be necessary because
they cannot raise the revenue to do so. The most challenged children in the state tend to
live in the poorer, urban communities who already tax their citizenry at the highest rates
in the state. Bear in mind that even though the state pays a large share of the poorer
districts' school bill, the highest tax rates in the state only serve to fill some of the
gap. The poorer districts still have the highest class sizes in the state, buildings often
in states of disrepair, an inability to support school sports and other extras, and
students with the highest degree of need.
District level school expenditures
Three years ago and in collaboration with RIDE, the General Assembly decided to establish
a detailed and informative system of reporting educational expenditures for all school
districts. They selected software called the In$ite Financial Analysis Model for
EducationTM which is capable of tracking all expenditures through the local school
district to the school sites. "All expenditures" includes expenditures from all
funding sources i.e., federal, state, and foundation grants, general revenue
budget, total food service expenditures regardless of revenue source, and debt service if
part of the school district's budget.
In$ite is not a new or a replacement accounting system. The districts will each maintain
their own internal accounting systems. In$ite is a financial reporting tool that works
with each district's existing system to provide a platform of user-friendly, consistent
information to begin analyzing educational expenditures within schools and districts, and
from school to school and district to district.
For more detail on In$ite, its implementation, a "map" of how the main
categories are allocated and the specifics which define these categories, please refer to
the User's Guide at the front of the 2000 Information Works! or go to the In$ite section
on the website at: infoworks.ride.uri.edu .
A word of caution
The In$ite data is being reported publicly for the first time. Some oddities in the data
do exist. Please be cautious about making assumptions for your school or district. Often
district decisions or other factors particular to a district easily explain figures that
initially seem unusually high or low. Superintendents or central office staff should be
able to address your questions or concerns.
Chart #1: A first portrait of district-to-district expenditures
View chart in PDF format:
PPE by District including Other Commitments
The chart to your left shows each district, or Local Education Authority (LEA)
which for these purposes include two state-operated schools, William Davies Career and
Technical High School and the Metropolitan Area Career and Technical Center (the
"Met"). The bar as a whole represents 100% of the expenditures for each LEA
broken down by the five categories indicated in the legend. The total dollars are divided
by the average daily membership of the public school students on whom those dollars are
spent, to arrive at a per pupil expenditure which includes everything.
Average daily membership (ADM)
Average daily membership (ADM) calculates an average of the number of days all students
are formally members of a district and/or a school per year.
Four of five expenditure categories
"Instruction" includes all face-to-face teaching, substitutes and all
instruction-related classroom materials. "Instructional support" refers to pupil
support such as guidance, library, extracurricular and health services; teacher support,
which includes professional development; and program support which refers to evaluators,
therapists, psychologists and so on. "Operations" includes transportation, food
service, safety, facilities and all business services. "Leadership" includes
principals, superintendents, costs associated with school committees, legal and
Also included is a category called
The "Other commitments" category includes such expenses as costs for district
students taught outside of the district, debt service for facilities construction and
repair, capital projects, retiree benefits and community service operations such as adult
continuing education, child care centers and so on.
We first include the "Other commitments" category because it presents a full
picture of district costs and to show that it varies considerably from district to
district. For example, small towns Little Compton and Jamestown do not have
high schools of their own. Their older students are counted as "out of district"
because they are bussed to other public schools to which the district pays a tuition.
Davies, a single school LEA, carries a sizable debt for the building of its facility, a
large sum that would be absorbed as a district cost elsewhere. Major repairs or capital
improvements will drive up the district's per pupil cost. For these reasons we include
other commitments on the first chart to get the fullest picture of expenditures
and then remove it on the next chart to show expenditures that are more comparable
from district to district.
Per pupil expenditure (PPE)
This graph along with those following are sorted high to low, by per pupil
expenditures. All expenditure dollars on the school and district charts are expressed as a
per pupil figure. These per pupil expenditures are not based on a simple head count, but
are based on the Average Daily Membership (ADM) of students and then their full-time
equivalent (FTE) in their respective programs. A child's participation in Special
Education Resource or English as a Second Language is counted only as a percentage of that
child's day. In a six-period day, a child who spends one period in the program will count
as one-sixth. Six such periods account for the full day's FTE, or per pupil expenditure.
The Virtual Rhode Island School
For the purposes of comparing one district to a state average, we've created a
"virtual" district by totaling every district's expenditures and dividing by the
total "Average Daily Membership" enrollment for the state. The Virtual district
does not imply a standard for best practices regarding expenditures; it merely serves to
orient each individual district's spending to the current practices of the state as a
Chart #2: Eliminating Other Commitments
View chart in PDF format:
PPE by District excluding Other Commitments
Chart #2 removes the "Other Commitments" category for a truer picture of the
strictly educational costs in the district itself. (Remember that this also eliminates the
students served out of the district.) The chart is re-sorted, high to low per pupil
expenditure, shuffling the districts somewhat as some of the anomalous costs are removed.
The value of the total bar is represented in real numbers over to the right, expressed as
a per pupil expenditure.
We remove the Other Commitments category partly to demonstrate that sometimes a category's
removal can make a considerable difference in that district's PPE. Each district has
decisions and circumstances that might strongly affect one category, but not the others.
Again, please resist jumping to conclusions about the quality and wisdom of a district's
expenditures. These charts give us only a first, rather rough portrait of RI's school
expenditures as a whole without describing mitigating circumstances. For example, a rural
district whose children travel great distances on a bus will have a relatively high per
pupil transportation cost which will affect that district's Operations category.
Another reason to review expenditure categories is to look at the big picture and begin to
identify possible anomalies. In this second chart, the PPE, excluding Other Commitments,
certain obvious built-in aberrations deserve note:
The New Shoreham district includes only Block Island where conducting any and all business
is more expensive than on the mainland. School lunch supplies, for example, must be
ferried or flown to the island, incurring costs beyond the costs to a school to whom a
truck has easy access. New Shoreham's costs are high across most categories.
The Career and Technical programs
Career and technical (C&T) education is generally more expensive than regular
education because of the specialized machinery, materials, shops and so on. Districts with
their own dedicated C&T schools absorb the full cost into the district. Some districts
share the cost of a C&T center with other districts. Still others send their students
to one of the two state-operated C&T schools Davies and the Met which
absorb all but the transportation costs for each student, no matter where the child comes
from. Thus C&T costs appear to be unevenly balanced among the districts.
Future In$ite reports
In$ite reports are available in both the district and school-level charts in Information
Works! We recommend consulting all three levels of information if a number in particular
strikes you as curious. Each level provides a context for the other. Also remember that
equality, such as equal per pupil expenditures, is not necessarily equity. Even
comparatively similar districts have unique challenges and assets that might mean that
one's per pupil expenditure would logically be higher than the other's. As we all become
more familiar with these data, our ability to ask and answer sophisticated questions about
educational investments will increase.
Please note that even this relatively generous surge of new financial information
represents only the beginnings of what will become available from the In$ite initiative.
Over the course of the coming year, RIDE expects to produce several reports using the
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